or the Hunt for the Muse
-a Shanghai Noir Story
By Tobias Rohde
Also check out the muses notebook: http://publish-me.sollbruch.biz/?page_id=137
LESEPROBE 12 Seiten (die ersten 12 von insgesamt 226 Seiten A4, sylfean, 12Pt)
More of this is true then i would normally want to admit
I have lived this live, my live, in Shanghai for a long time. I’ve had times of Boredom, where i barely lived, where money was short, and joy rare. I had had times where i could with all might not decide which offer to prefer, when to work for whom, because my office got flooded with the requests of customers. There where times i had been truly happy, times i had felt special for being who i was, and doing what i do, here in the Eastern world.
This is a noir story. In every cliche i know. It is so, because i love Literature, i love the elaboration of words, the sophisticated poetry, that just comes somehow to being whenever i start telling a story. Its how i am. Its the remains and reminders of my traditional good education, the leftovers of the long forgotten seeds of private schooling, an interest in theater and the roots that i had cut when i so long ago had been boarding that ship to escape into this stranger tide, this eastern promise and mystical adventure… And it is so because, hell, i cant change that i am living the live of a private eye. I am a stranded man, a failure in Live and Love, a tough guy and sad in my heart. I Prefer coats over sportive jackets or suits, and despite the fashion had changed several million times since i bought my hat, i will never deliberately part from it.
So, as i had taken enough of your time to explain why in so many aspects, for me this story is a natural born cliche noir story, you will forgive my, and the reality i attracted for its start.
She walked into my office on a windy autumn afternoon, back in the days, before the Olympics and the fashion behind western investors brought the big changes in the shanghaineese city makeup.
She walked in and i felt from the start this completely wired attraction towards her. You might have guessed, but in 100 Customers i have, barley 5 of them are actually chinese. And if they are, they mostly belong to the crowd that some folks here call bananas: yellow outside, white inside.
This one was different. She brought with her the flavor and Aura by which i can separate the real born Chinese, from the drifters, the bothworlders, the business people, the foreign educated, the taiwanese imports, the hongkong runaways and the deliberately stupid landfolk. She was a real chinese woman. not a cute girl, not a business bachelor, nor was she a whore or a shopkeeper… i would have known. And she was not rotten inside. not compromised by the city. somehow innocent, and with that grace, that once had lured me here. That chinesness, that one western man might look for, when he spend some time reading old chinese stories, watching artistic movies, or studying chinese philosophy or one of their so called martial arts.
She moved different. She had it. I pictured her immediately with her grandfather in an oldstyle houses tearoom, learning how to behave chinese in the old way. She had clung on. she had stood in the winds and tides of western change, and never let go of the traditional values she had been educated, gifted and blessed with.
And yet, she was modern. modern dress, modern makeup, a mobile phone, a non brand handbag, probably handmade by a real tailor and shoes that had been carefully designed in the aequlibria between practical and elegant. Her age was hard to guess, even for me. Older then 30, maybe not 40 yet… maybe older then that…
I preferably greet all customers like i imagine a „finder“ like i sometimes call myselve, should do. feet on my desk, in my unbuttoned shirt, sleeves rolled up, the hat in the back of my head, reading a newspaper.
I usually ask what brought them here, before i even consider putting my crossword aside or letting my attention leave the wired depths of the shanghai daily fuilleton.
But when she opened the door something immediately caught me. I found her gaze with mine in a second, and when our eyes met, some long forgotten spirit inside me got touched, and a wave of feelings that i had long thought dead rushed over me unwelcomed.
I was in a platonic yet deep love with the style she had, before she even had opened her mouth.
I put my feet on the floor and turned towards her, but before i could have embarrassed myself trying to greet her different then everybody else, she spoke to me first.
Her Mandarin was clear, light as a brassbell, and beautiful like the morning on top of a skyscraper. It bore the slightest edge of shanghaineése accent, but it was so slight that i could not have decided if it had been overpainted by education or dripped in by having to much contact with the locals:
Her Question was: „You do speak fluent chinese, not?“
I gulped down my tough mans bogard English, that i polish for all customers and that jumped to my aid as soon as the door opened and made an effort to answer in My own version of mandarin, that had been kicked in the nuts by shanghaineese accent one to many:
„Yes Lady, i do“
„hao“ she answered in chinese, then repeated in english: „Good“
And sat down on the chair in front of my desk, while she removed, with the same fluent motion, the half emptied Tsingdao beercan from it, and placed it between us on the table.
She stared at me, until the smile i tried to return had finished the quick transformation from embarrassed, to honest, and froze somewhere between welcoming professionalism and real human contact gesture.
Then she spoke again:
„Are you the finder? the one many recommend in this city? the one who takes any job?“
the one who takes any job? Reminded me of my frst years on the turf, spoke of my reacurring desperation and the everchanging lifestyle between relative poverty and real wealth, the slow motion rollercoaster of my professional career…
Should have explained myself… should have made a bow and smiled. But there are the times, all poetry is burned and the smoke of vanishing glamor has to be blown away by a simple gust of truth.
„Yes. I am the finder“
„Hao.“ her Mandarin looked sexy on her lips. you know what i mean?
„Good.“ she repeated in English. Damn, English suited her lips too. What? disappointed by my schoolboys observations of a perfect female specimen? Oh i grew up alright. In the dark alleys, in the nightlife, in the unpaid bills, the beatings, the broken hearts, the cold water i had to shower myself with, the vomit and dirt of seven lifetimes and all that. No reason to makebelieve that she was not distractingly close to the woman i had literally been dreaming about meeting.
She smiled at me. Did my appreciation of her show on my face? Or was i politely being handed the initiative over the conversation? If you then still could call it initiative.
I smiled back and enjoyed the Moment, giving my unprofessionally personal thought about her a second to crawl back into the comfortably subconscious depth from where they had risen with my observation of her lips.
Then i leaned back in my chair, opened my hands for the Unicode of a questioning gesture and asked my Clever question.
„So, apart from somebody to find it, what is it that you are looking for, miss…?“ my open end to it proposing the unspoken question for her name…
Her smile was teasing me. Deliberately? „Miss Searcher will do for now.“
So finally, all cliche i ever had blundered to live after, every Movie cliche to say, popped alive today? A Mysterious Women. Glad she wasn’t blond and smoking a slim cigarette, would have had to move to New York then. Well, at least this was more like my fantasy.
I gave her a long questioning look. She wasn’t moving a muscle. Every bit the perfectly still chinese Girl. But under that calmness, i saw her anxiety now. We where close to the point and the drug effect of my fascination with her was beginning to fade, making room for my talents, the one thing that i had found to set me apart… Intuitive observation.
To understand the being in front of you, to see what was there, you should never focus to intensely. It not like you notice that on her next smile her lips seem to part the slightest fracture, her eyes dart a micrometer to the side, or her Complexion or Composure shifts a tiny bit. Its that you don’t see, but realize all small indicators. A single one would never tell you anything, could mislead, could have been placed there by careful acting to put you off the track. It is that you see the holistic Picture, feel it, let your ego and your focus rest on the conscious and let your subconscious do the job, let it whisper in your ear what the holistic Picture looks like which it puzzled together framed in all experience as reference…
And apart from the mysterious answer, i was astonished that she had been going to the trouble to print a Businesscard that actually read Miss Searcher and a Phone Number and nothing else…
„so what do you want me to find?“
She smiled when she said it. A smile that had later haunted me in my dreams.
I paid and got out of the cab.
Fucking hate taking cabs.
hate being stuck somewhere in a car.
The alley in front of me was uninviting. The neon shadows where lacking the colorful makeup of nearby modern skyscrapers. consisted only of the orange glow of streetlamps that lost itself between the small buildings. Looked like garages, but i knew better. i had seen places like this before. I knew the smell: Oil, cheap perfume, cheap cigarette smoke, cheap noodles rotting in a cheap plastic Bag,, abandoned in a muddy puddle of foam-covered water over a dysfunctional sink. The reeking stench of the rotting, dying dragon. His last breath barely audible in the song of Drug abuse and suppressed by the cheap music of a self-repeating karaoke CD, which cast silent echoes of Chinese pop music about the area from somewhere in the dark. I looked at the puddle. The foam reflecting the mist, visible in the neon light.
Men shuffling through the semi-Darkness. Garage roll doors. Mostly reading Chinese characters advertising mechanics or storage space for some company. Most of them closed this hour of the night. The others, open and alight, revealed glass doors, behind which a cheap and unmatching assembly of Sofas hosted an even cheaper and matching assembly of women in 12RMB dresses, short in length, short in style, short in their ability to cover what was on sale here, at least as inapt as the red writing on the glass doors was, that advertised body massage or haircuts, making a futile effort at hiding the purpose of this business.
The small Chinese men in front could hardly be called a Pimp governing western standards. But he was a Chinese version of it. The shopkeeper. Subtle, i know, but no less true. That’s what i would have addressed him with in Chinese.
Have you ever heard that the Inuit have several hundred words for snow? I bet you that the Chinese have a similar high quantity of vocabulary for prostitution. The oldest Trade, the oldest stigmata. Banned into alleys like this by the rejection of the obvious, that the Chinese government sustained towards sex on sale.
I tugged at my coat involuntarily, sizing up the different ´shopkeepers` and their ´shops`.
Somewhere in the back of my mind i was trying to feel where my subject might have been working, what kind of place figured my estimation of her character, what kind of men she might have ended up with as her ´boss´. But my mind couldn’t possibly come to a conclusion to that question. They really where all the same. I could fucking ask by chance, or ask fucking or get a bad haircut in my dirt stained shoes… wouldn’t make a difference here. I remembered those alleys, i recalled the invitations they came with and the disappointment they left you. I remembered the loneliness that had driven me here, and the dirty money i had made of some of my customers, who had payed me for bringing them here. I remembered the shame they had left me with, after the anxiety that had brought me, had been scraped away by the clumsy fingers of a cheap whore, which wasn’t even worth the money i had spend.
I remember trying to wash off the stench of the alley, which, now that i paid attention, had the slightest fragrance of used condoms to it.
Ahh. The shadows of the city! Or the clearest look into its very soul, into its self destructive depths… or was it in reality, like i had pretended to myself so many times, that it was normal. Just a business. That my reservations where prejudice, a morality leftover of my good education. Prostitution.
I kept walking past the „Shops“ still seizing up their keepers, while I remembered an essay i had written when i was 17 years old, which ended as a shunned homework for my semantics teacher, who was not amused by it. And he had pointed out that, even if he did admit that i had proven my intelligence with this work, he would have preferred a text that wouldn’t force him to equally question my character. In said text i had wondered that under the vintage point of etymology, ´con-stitution` and ´pro-stitution` clearly must have come from the same root, and i had to wondered furthermore how it had come, that the one we where basing our democratic values on would start with the negatively valued prefix ´con` and the other, that described a immoral business, started with the positively connotated prefix ´pro`? Where both therefore the pros and cons of an In-stitution of society and therefore linked by there nature? I had concluded something like that. An Idea that both might have something to do with the price of freedom an its evaluation…
I followed those thoughts as I looked at the faces of the girls with their job-masks as fake waitresses, fake massage-girls, fake hairdressers, all alike sitting in neon-light on old pre-ikea sofas, in the little spaces behind the entrance-doors. Some Mindless, some overly-cheery, but most bored and tired. All in dresses my mother, just seeing them in a shop, would have raised both eyebrows at.
As i already pointed out, with a western idea of pimps and abused street whores one would get the wrong view of the looks of the Chinese sibling of the western biz. In my mind and shamefully enough to admit, also mi my memory, western ´pimps` most looked like they where the muscular, short-necked, violent and tyrannic older brothers of the women they fuck-rented to their customers, likely to settle disobedience, dislike and other disputes by a brawl, or sending one of their dog-minded gang followers to do the violence for them, that they all where always ready for. My mental images of them where hung with expensive show-off or just show off jewelery ,that they had afforded on the profits they had made in a three way currency exchange between their gold toothed smiles, customers dollars and variable orifice penetration time of their subjects. The Chinese ´shopkeepers` on the other hand mostly looked more like the general slim and small younger brother helping out their hard working bigger sisters with their business, taking care of the door and the cashier and such. A not so wrong picture. There actually was much less violence involved here. Not that they weren’t really ready for it, but it simply wasn’t how things where generally done. Even the payment system was different in those small shops. Not that there was an official guideline, but as far as i knew, the normal way was that you picked a girl, payed the pimp an amount x of which he gave more then 80% to the girl. If a girl decided to decline a customer that had picked her, she had to pay the same amount of money she would have made as a ´fine` or loose her spot with the shop, which generally meant, that no one in the area would work with her any longer. Not only the other shopkeepers would have rejected to work with an exiled whore, but also the other women would have probably beat her up, steel her good dresses, and her shoes, and force her to walk home barefoot, bruised and in underwear, which then would tell all her neighbors what she was doing for a living. A quite efficient system. Pro. like Pro-stitution.
As far as i had understood at this point into the case, the mentioned above punishment was what had happened to the person who was my first real clue in this case. A Girl whose name i didn’t know yet, but who had, for all the information i had acquired until now, worked as ´purple´ at one of the shops in this street… Well, I guess i should explain the color thing now:
Seems that it was a real kind of annoying for mostly all the customers to ask for „that whore“ when they picked one, or on rare occasions when they came back, wanted the same service performed by the same girl they had last time. The Chinese customers had absolutely no interest at all, to know anything about their rent-cunts and would have payed extra for an extra lack of personality or information regarding such traits. And the foreigners or laowai customers, the unfaithful ex-patriots, businessfuckers and tourists who strayed here and the sex-tourists who willingly came looking for this kind of entertainment, all came with a stereotyped „they all look the same“ attitude towards the Chinese facial physiognomy which, combined with their evenly big inaptitude in pronouncing or remembering Chinese names, led to an disabling inability to tell the shopkeeper who they wanted or had decided for this time, and, even worse, if they came in packs, robbed them of the opportunity to compare and share and brag about the girls they’d tried with their accompanying retinue of fuckfriends. And as giving the whores English names would have robbed the shops of some of their charm, the most of them had bowed to the obvious need and started to colorcode their goods for the consumers convenience. which meant that the girls wore the same kind of dress every night at work, and that every color was represented only once in every shop, and the creditors of the pay for-your-pussy backstreet industry where henceforth free and able to call the girls by convenient names:
Like white, violet, purple, red, yellow, green, black stockings and pink hair… Even a lot of the Chinese had started to use these names, and it came with a morbid kind of charm, recognisability and the perfect personal anonymity… so, that’s the color thing.
How much it also satisfied the average customers desire to crave a human playpartner while wanting an inanimate object to fuck at the same time i couldn’t possibly know, as i deliberately had refrained from leading my mind so far down the road of wannabe psychological observations to guess.
I however had guessed that my contact had worked as purple in one of the shops, so instead of continuing sizing up shopkeepers i first looked how common that color was. There where about 15 Shops of the described kind in this area, all with a number between 5 and 10 girls working the actual shift, summing up to about 100women in all, which conclusively meant that i had to start checking out dresses and skirts. Being here, miss searchers acquaintances where already paying me by the hour, and considering that in the back of my mind, i couldn’t help but wonder what my behavioral teacher or my mothers behavioral therapist would have said to the fact that i now did earn my money by looking at young women skirts.
I soon found, that near every shop had someone working red, black, pink, blue and green. i also found a ton of girls in yellow and white. Tan and Grey where unique and the rest where more or less tones or variations of the mentioned base-colors. Purple was as common as pink, which led me to the conclusion that cheap sexy dresses in that color where as easy to get as black or red ones, and a little smile spread over my face, as i now started to look if a shop was either lacking a purple, or i could find a purple skirt that was rather new. Both not very good clues, but you have to start somewhere, if you have nearly no description at all, no name, and non other link but the color of her former working clothes. No big deal for the finder, I once had found a man just because he had only smoked a certain kind of cigarettes, which where no less uncommon then a purple dress on a shanghainese whore. Its all basic detectives work. Perception first, then guts and tongue.
You find somewhere to start, you go there, you have a look and then you engage randomly suspicious victims in the casual kind of conversations and try not to attract the wrong kind of attention while still extracting the good kind of answers for the right kind of unasked questions out of the unsuspecting kind of people that unknowingly had volunteered to be involved in your scheme. And Wei Sun Gam, or Wei Wei, like his friends like to call him, was the very right kind of idiot, to make my night a kind of success.
Most Chinese ive met think that laoweis are stupid, full of shit and full of money that nobody ever knew where it came from. Like a Donkey that shat the gold out its ass, but had to pay the price with thinking, talking and wanting shit all the time. Very sadly i had found out over the years that said reputation was not a pure fictional invention of the Chinese, but much more a conclusion of what they had experienced with the average white or black idiot that i had met in Shanghai. Still, that reputation had led a lot of normal Chinese guys to come up with very idiotic business ideas when they encountered longnoses. Like some cab-Drivers just suddenly remembered that they had to double the price when you wanted to pay the meter, or some fruit vendor could not be helped to read his own handwriting, that clearly stated the price for bananas, when a white man wanted to purchase his goods.
I had often counted on evoking such opportunities, with a mixture of fake money-to-spend attitude and naivety and by of course dumbing down my Chinese to an intermediate learned-in-business-school level, to get all kinds of average Chinese guys to buy into the idea that i was going to make their day by buying something from them for the highest price they would dare to come up with. Its a good start if you where looking for information.
Chinese are generally not thieves, but they do tax your inadequate lack of looking Asian, by at least doubling any price, as soon as they smell a chance of you being a rich fool; a description which fits nearly every laowai, for they all get a western kind of money to spend it in a city where general prices used to be a tenth of what they where abroad. You have to understand, there was a time when one Yuan had bought you nearly the same stuff in china, that one dollar or their equivalent currency would have bought you in the USA or in Europe, only one dollar bought you ten yuan, and that meant that even backpackers, with their small allowances of about 200$ realamericanmoney could in china live like someone who had 2000$ pocketmoney to spare. And Tourist or businessvisiters who usually brought with them somewhat between 500$ and up to 3000$ to spend where even worse: One-day-Kings in white skin, senseless Moneybags, Stupid-White-Men, Diamond-fruit-flies, Long noses with gold snot in them… And once they got, that after the exchange to yuan, they basicly had all of a sudden ten times the buying-power in china then what they where normally used to wherever they came from, they started behaving like newly-rich idiots, trying to ask for the price of the Dragons scales, so that they later could tell everybody that they had ridden it. And that is the attitude that Chinese are used to in westerners.
Wei Wei was no exception to that rule.
I approached him in the corner of the alley, right after he had gotten out of his cab. His lack of insecurity and easy but eager grin, something in the way he lid his cigarette, a flick of the wrist to look at his watch and the straightness with which he targeted a certain shop, made me think that he was what i was looking for. A regular. A Average Chinese men, not to young, not to wise, normal money, coming for his weekly or monthly visit to reward him in some kind of made up way. someone with not enough wits to see what i wanted from him, but with enough initiative to seize the moment and try to make some laowai leftover money out of me.
I asked him in wrong Chinese grammar and with bad pronunciation for help. Puzzled, he stopped, turned, and sized me up. I repeated my question, making it sound as if i now put extra effort in even wronger pronunciation. He laughed at me. Then switched to a from of chinglish that was nearly as bad the bad Chinese i had faked. „You looking something?“
yeah, nice to meet you too asshole, i did my best in looking a little shy. I glanced over my shoulder left and right, down the alley, then at my shoes and finally smiled my shy smile as i stated: „you speak English, yes?“
„a little“ he answered, his voice rich with an accent that would have honored breakfast at Tiffany and every other Chinese cliche of the past decades. his eyes though already searching for money. a certain glance, a certain growing shine that i had come to realize over the years i had tried not to get bend over by his likes, when i spend my own money.
„Oh good, maybe you can help me…“ and as easy as that i had him in a conversation, and started weaving a convenient story to cover my questions.
I hate writing dialogue and it can´t remember it word by word at any rate. So i will give you a summary of the story Wei Wei bought into, which he learned of while enjoying a few of my cigarettes and a Drink of good bejo, chinese strong spirit, that i had exclusively bought and brought for such a case and offered to ease him up.
He was therefore under the impression that i had a friend, big guy in a suit with lots of money, who had been here a few weeks ago to have some fun. He had taken a girl home, which i should mention, is possible if you pay the shop about 4 times the price for one number, and for the cab back, which basicly was tip for the girls, as most of them used the much cheaper busroutes. Anyway, this friend of mine, or so Wei Wei believed, had picked up a girl in a purple skirt, and had spend a night with her, that he had called very rememberable. As i had it, the women had offered to do some very neat things for some extra money and a bottle of champagne, and had given him quite more service then the lying-flat-on-your-back-until-it-was-over that you could buy here. He had also told me that he had wanted to get her to his place another time a week later, but found that she wasn’t working here any more. He had asked after her, but the shopkeeper had only tried to offer him different girls again and again, not telling him about his purple. He was sad about this and had told me over drinks, that he would give a lot of money if he could have this girl again. I now happened to be an entrepreneur who wanted to make a big business-contract with this guy, and to get him into the mood i had decided to get this girl. And i was willing to pay for the information of her home-address… but, my Chinese was so bad, and i was afraid of asking the shopkeepers. As far as my friend had told me, she was an „exiled whore“ and i used the Chinese word with slightly wrong pronunciation and lot of question marks behind it. Whatever that meant, but i didn’t want to make people angry and i really would appreciate a Chinese man with a sense for business to help me. And with that i gave him more then double of what a whore would cost him in any of the shops, and told him that if he got me the right address, and brought me there, i would give him more then 4 times that much… wink wink, and off went Wei Wei to ask the kind of questions that i would have taken a lot of time to get people to answer. And back came
Wei Wei, with a men dragging him by his throat… well, not all plans are perfect and not all detective work excludes violence. Wei Wei made lots of effort to shout in Chinese and point in my direction, struggling feebly to get away, while a Chinese guy, who would have passed as a pimp in the western sense much better then the shopkeepers, made an effort to look grim and not get his shirt stained by the blood that rapidly dribbled out of Wei Wei´s nose. I decided that this was either a fuckup, or quite a good direction to keep digging. It still was the only clue i had, so i hoped for the second possibility, thought of the wonderful smile on miss searchers face, and stood my ground rather then fleeing towards the bigger street in hope for a convenient cab to rescue me from the grim looking, big, muscular Chinese guy and Wei Wei´s possible attempts in retribution. It takes some kind of coolness to just stand there and watch a big guy with a violent face approaching, who obviously had just beat up someone that did ask your questions. I could feel the adrenalin, and a mixture of shame, excitement and fear rushing over me. I needed to do something, or i would end up just standing there with my teeth chattering or my knees getting all wobbly with the unused energy that the adrenalin had pumped into my blood like water flushing into a toilet. I am sorry for the metaphor, it came to my mind because i also needed to pee badly. Anxiety. Needed something to do: So I grabbed into my coat and got out my cigarettes, lid one with a match out of the other pocket, while the unmatching pair of victimized customer and the Chinese cartoon version of bully the bouncer approached meter by meter. I still had wobbly knees, so i leaned casually against the wall, and trying my best to get out some of my eagerness to either fight or flight the situation, i smiled smoke out of the shadow of my hat and grabbed for my best Marlon Brando voice, and for my best shanghaineese street accent to flavor it with accordingly.
„A Problem?“ I asked. And by that question, one thing let to another.
The men they had brought me to was Chinese. Like miss searcher was. the rare kind, that had learned to speak English before it was obligatory in their schools, and did so perfectly, with just enough accent left to give him a genuine Chinese feeling, but had not adopted to many western habits. He did not look old, but i still guessed that he was way into his fifties. He did look at me sideways across a traditional tea-table that was placed between two traditional tea-chairs, both with their backs to the less traditional concrete-wall that the table was placed against.
I was aware that in older times, in a traditional Chinese house, such kind of table would have been placed in the reception area, facing the gateway but on the opposite side of the garden, under the inner roof, next to the stairs leading to the living room. Here the father of the house would receive guests, sit with a view of the garden and talk of important things over a cup of green tea. We had tea, which was green, and the talk was important, as in one way or another, my life as it is, was at stake.
„You had to break his arm?“ he softly asked in English with his pleasant, calm voice?
funny enough i answered him with my deep voice and in educated mandarin.
„I saw no other way fit, to impress upon his stubborn mind that the fight was over, without killing him or knocking him unconscious. By both means he would not have been able to tell me whom he worked for, and Mr Wei had already taken his leave in a hurry. So… “
It is funny how this sometimes happens to me. I meet a Chinese character, as in a person from china, who speaks fluent English and we both somehow have the desire to impress each other with our knowledge of our interlocutors mothertounge, that we have this comical conversations where the white guy speaks in impressingly elaborate Chinese, and the Chinese guy speaks in fluent, eloquent English…
„I see“ the man answered, looked straight, and had a thoughtful sip of tea.
The soft clatter that saucer, lid an cup made when he replaced them on the table, nearly made me flinch. I had easily won the fight against the violent bouncer who, lucky me, had only muscles to show off, but no martial skill at all. Still, the short fight had roughed me up a little, and i now was aware of some smaller bruises from the punches he had given me against my legs, instead of submitting to my hold, and a button was missing at my coat, where he had desperately grabbed for support while all his senseless mas had already been on the uncontrolled way down towards the dirty pavement of the ally. Additionally on my chest there also was an assembly of small burns, both of flesh and fabric, that i had received from the cigarette, which had somehow ended up in my shirt. But worse was the effect of the leftover adrenalin, that was still hunting sugar in my cells, like a cougar loose among chickens in a small yard, giving me both a feeling of exhaustion and a terrible awakeness, much like an overdose of caffeine. And even worse then that was the stain my hat had gotten when it fell off in the ally. I played with it, imagining the filt accesoir to look at me in a manly fashion and whisper with a Voice like crumbling paper: „you should have seen the other guys shirt…“ That picture almost made me smile. The calm voice on the other side of the table fetched me back to this reality:
„don’t you want your tea?“
„Thank you, it is still to hot for my taste“
He turned his head towards me, raised an eyebrow, and then in a breach of protocol, reached over the table to take off the lid of my cup. He slightly tipped it against the edge of the cup, to get rid of some drops of condensated water, and placed it gently on the table. As if i had forced him to do something unpleasant, he looked at me, then changed his expression to a controlled smile, that would have passed both as a sarcastic western smirk, and as an invitation to come back another time.
„I still do not fully comprehend what has brought you here. And i would like to refreshen your memory, that i, like my associates out there in the darker districts, know that miss…“ he sighed „purple, did not have any customer like you made the poor mister Wei believe, before she came to a misunderstanding with her… employers, and left our area of influence.“
„Well, i actually just wanted miss“ i also sighed „purples name and home address, as i have some unattended business with her, and i did not know how else to approach your associates in the darker districts, without getting unwanted attention.“
He chuckled silently and then asked:
„and how did that turn out for you?“
I smiled back more grimly then i wanted, and took a sip of his stupidly traditional tea to recover some of my wits. Don´t get me wrong, i am all for traditional Chinese ritual fluff, even if it comes in triad bosses like i suspected my acquaintance to be one, but i was getting annoyed by the situation and my body was impatient in the cellular memory of recent violence… i answered him in English, just to get some of the tradition out of the situation, and before it started to feel like a theater act: